Bulldogs put aside distractions and beat Southern Miss
Published 5:37 pm Saturday, November 18, 2023
STARKVILLE(AP) — Following the firing of head coach Zach Arnett on Monday, Mississippi State had plenty of distractions heading into Saturday afternoon’s showdown with Southern Miss.
The loss of a coach, the upcoming Battle of the Golden Egg against rival Ole Miss and a rusty quarterback in Will Rogers made for an upset alert for the Bulldogs.
But State found a way through it using a couple of late touchdowns in a 41-20 win over the Golden Eagles.
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Interim head coach Greg Knox was promoted to his post on Monday afternoon after serving as an offensive analyst earlier this year. The former MSU running backs coach from 2009-17 also took over when Dan Mullen left Starkville for Florida in 2017 and helped the Bulldogs to a TaxSlayer Bowl win over Louisville.
“They took the team that we went over every day in the meetings and bought into it. They had a really productive week of practice and I was very pleased with their attitude and effort,” Knox said after the game.
Southern Miss gave the Bulldogs all they could handle five days after Arnett’s firing. He was relieved on Monday morning by Athletics Director Zac Selmon following the Bulldogs’ 51-10 loss to Texas A&M.
Jakarius Caston single-handedly kept the Golden Eagles in the game after scoring on a 44-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter and then returning a kickoff 98 yards with a little more than eight minutes left to reduce the deficit to 26-20.
The Bulldogs (5-6, 1-6 SEC) countered with a 59-yard run to extend the lead with 7:14 remaining. Jett Johnson then sealed it with an interception that he flipped to safety Marcus Banks who took it 70 yards for a score.
“Hindsight is 20-20, and it was kind of a dumb play honestly,” Johnson joked. “I told Marcus Banks, ‘Thank you for catching that ball.’ I was trying to get that guy off of me because I knew he was there. He made a guy miss and he took it to the house.”
Mississippi State had 382 yards of offense with 238 on the ground. Rogers returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring his shoulder against Western Michigan on Oct. 7. Rogers was rusty but threw for two touchdowns on 12-of-27 passing for 144 yards.
Jeffery Pittman had 10 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown and Zavion Thomas had three catches for 66 yards. Tulu Griffin caught four passes for 32 yards and a score.
Freshman kicker Kyle Ferrie proved invaluable early when he got MSU points when the team’s offense was stagnant. He kicked three field goals, from 48, 29 and 41 yards, to help the Bulldogs gain a 16-7 lead at halftime.
The SEC’s top two tacklers, Bookie Watson and Jett Johnson had 39 combined. Watson had 21 and Johnson 18.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Knox said of the production of his linebackers. “All week long, those two have been the two up front leading this team. They came to work every day and brought others with them. When you work like that, good things happen.”
Southern Miss had 246 yards of offense, with running back Frank Gore rushing for 66 on 22 carries and and adding five receptions for 29 yards. Caston had two catches for 88 yards and a score, as well as the 98-yard kick return.
Southern Miss (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt) has shown some fight in recent weeks and have made progress late in the year. It won its previous two games, and will wrap things up with a home game against Troy next Saturday.